Throughout history certain people have selflessly stood against overwhelming odds and powerful opposition for the rights of the working man. James Larkin, an Irish Folk Hero and Labor Activist,is one such hero who fought tirelessly for the rights of workers in Ireland.
James Larkin was born on January 21, 1876 in Liverpool, England. He grew up in poverty in the slums of Liverpool and had very little formal education. To help his family’s meager income, James went to work at an early age and worked in a variety of poorly paying jobs. He eventually became a foreman at the Liverpool docks and witnessed firsthand the unfair treatment and horrible living conditions of local dock workers.
Larkin was a committed socialist who believed that dock workers were being abused terribly and treated unfairly for the benefit of selfish profiteers. He joined the National Union of Dock Laborers (NUDL) quickly rising through the ranks and becoming a full- time union organizer in 1905.
Because of his “sympathetic” strike methods in which sympathetic workers not directly involved would also join in the strike, Larkin’s superiors in the union became concerned for their own reputations and transferred him to a union position in Dublin in 1907.
In Dublin, James’ goal was to create one all-inclusive union for both skilled and un-skilled Irish workers. At this point in time, only about 10 % of Irish workers were members of unions. To accomplish his goal of fairness for all Irish workers, he founded the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU) in 1909. Originally drawing members from the NUDL, the ITGWU grew to include 15,000 members from many different industries with its main symbol the famous “Red Hand of Ulster.”
In 1913 guided by Larkin, the famous “Dublin lockout” occurred in Dublin where 100,000 workers went on strike against 300 employers for almost eight months. The result was the devastation of Larkin’s union which precipitated his travelling to the United States to try to raise funds to resurrect the union.
While there, he publicly opposed the United States’ entry into World War 1 and in 1920 was convicted of anarchy serving three years in prison before being deported back to Ireland in 1923. He died in 1947 but is forever remembered for his famous quote, “A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.”